The left can win the abortion debate
If conservatives want abortion to be not a legal right but a political issue, then let it be a political issue
Putting aside the rage over the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which contradicted what several justices suggested they would do when they were nominees, let’s consider the GOP argument. They essentially say there is no constitutional right to abortion and that the issue is political. This is actually not the Republicans’ craziest position, and it provides an opening if the Democrats are smart enough to take it.
I am not a jurist but I can do a search, and I indeed find nothing in the Constitution about terminating pregnancies. That abortion follows from the constitutional rights to privacy or equality is an argument that I certainly support but it is also open to interpretation. The notion that the Second Amendment — with its call for a “well regulated Militia” — permits every nutjob to carry a weapon is actually a far sillier position.
Over the past half-century, the abortion issue has been bent out of shape by partisans from all sides, including liberals who insist the opposition to abortion is a conspiracy to enslave women.
Sure, some conservatives certainly seek a patriarchal society that is oppressive to women — but not all. The “right to choose” is something of a euphemism. I propose we take conservatives at their word that this is not about making choices but rather their deeply felt position that abortion is murder. Since I prefer precision, I am not “pro-choice” but rather openly in favor of abortion rights (until fairly late in the pregnancy as well).
Yes, there is a moral quandary here. I don’t know when life begins. But I conclude that allowing abortions is less bad than forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to term against her will. If you’re a “pro-lifer” who considers this murder, you quite possibly support the death penalty also — and that is definitely murder. There are no easy choices in life or in death.
It’s not so odd to conclude that the dispute between the positions is political. The truth is that Roe was a convenient way of guaranteeing abortion rights without politicians.
The Republicans now seem to prefer that state legislatures decide on the matter, and that is, again, not totally unreasonable. But it also flirts with something of an unpatriotic view that the United States is not a country but more of a collection of autonomous territories; you also could argue that federal legislation should apply.
Either way, bring it on. The outrage (and global embarrassment) that will result from half the states banning abortion should clarify to our often intellectually lazy citizenry that votes (as well as non-votes) have consequences. It should spur political decisions based on a mature understanding of cause and effect.
Polls show a strong majority of Americans did not want Roe overturned and do not want abortions banned. About 85% view abortion as acceptable under any or some circumstances and Pew finds a clear majority consider themselves “pro-choice.”
To date it has been hard to harness that majority, partly because they were complacent. After all, Brett Kavanaugh told the Senate in his confirmation hearings that Roe was an important precedent. Put charitably, he deceived.
Moreover, if you are part of the majority that supports abortion rights, then you are probably also part of the majority that supports a wide variety of liberal social issues including wider access to health care, and reasonable gun control.
On this last issue, note that even the minimal gun control legislation that was passed in recent days managed to squeak past the globally unique filibuster in the globally rare non-majoritarian Senate because 15 Republican senators joined the Democrats. That means 35 Republicans — 70% of the party’s senators — did not think that even a minor response to the recent mass murders was a good idea.
The Republican positions on the above issues make the United States an outlier among developed nations.
Many people are reluctant to be one-issue voters, but sometimes one issue, like abortion, crystallizes a major truth: American conservatives are hell-bent on a whole array of regressive policies opposed by the majority, and they are spectacularly indifferent to the unfairness of it.
The Democrats would be well advised to ignore advice that voters cannot be swayed. At key junctures they can be. They now have a good shot at holding onto Congress, if they hammer home that support for the Republicans has manifest devastating consequences.
Make the midterms a referendum on abortion, guns and the other lamentable policies in which the Republicans are out of step with the public. It may be a moment when voters are prepared to consider that their votes have consequences.
If they stop being timid, the Democrats should be able to hold on, kill the filibuster, and enshrine abortion rights and much else besides. And they would be doing it the old-fashioned way: by the will of we the people.
(This article appeared originally in the New York Daily News)